The European Parliament has agreed on a compromise to advance the controversial REACH legislation after years of negotiating.
REACH - Registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals, put together by 25 EU nations, places the responsibility for ensuring that chemicals used in products are safe firmly at the door of industry. Business says requirements to test chemicals that have been used for many years could undermine its profitability and competitiveness.
But the latest compromise has already come under fire from environmental groups who feel that legislation has been skewed by intense lobbying from industry.
The legislation require around 30,000 chemicals to undergo testing by industry and review by a new agency, the European Chemicals Agency (EChA), with the power to ban chemicals posing significant health threats.
The EChA is due to start work by April 2007 and will enforce chemical producers to a 'substitution principle', whereby they are required to come up with safer alternatives to substances deemed dangerous by EChA and submit a 'substitution plan'. If there are no safe alternatives, an R&D list to find substitutions at a later stage should be put forward. Substances produced in quantities of less than 10 tonnes are exempted from the safety testing.
The European Environmental Bureau (EBB), a group of non-governmental organizations, claim submission of 'substitution plans' will only occur when the companies -"finds"- a safer alternative. The EEB worries that companies might simply ignore the plan.
All in all, this means the European chemical industry, worth £265m (€392m), may keep on using between 1500 to 2000 'substances of high concern', as long as procedures are 'adequately controlled', the EEB asserts.
The European parliament will hold a final vote on REACH in mid-December but it is anticipated the compromise will be accepted.